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SPORT REPORT : Riding Blind

July 10, 1994|Judy\f7 Raphael

Claudia Folska runs a bike-related company and spent hundreds of hours on bikes over the past year in preparation for a tandem trip across the country. But she insists she's not a serious cyclist. "I'm just a regular Joe who happens to be blind," she says.

Folska, 29, is the founder of Santa Monica-based Eyecycles, which pairs blind and sighted cyclists for weekend tandem rides. Last year, Folska hit on the idea of "Eyecycles Across America," a less-intense version of the Race Across America, to promote recreational opportunities for the visually impaired. She enlisted 10 tandem teams that trained with three-time RAAM champion Cindi Staiger. Folksa trained with Karen Adkinson, who would "captain" the bike while Folska rode in the "stoker" position.

Then, disaster. Their major sponsor dropped out, so the other 18 riders couldn't go. Then their mechanic backed out. But Adkinson and Folska cobbled together donations from companies big and small, and on May 1, they left from Santa Monica City Hall. Gerry Tatrai, winner of the 1993 RAAM, was watching: He joined them on the spur of the moment, abandoning a ticket back to his home in Australia. And they began their 3,200-mile ride across America.

Traveling with a support van, they kept a 100-plus-mile-a-day pace, with Adkinson and Tatrai alternating as captain. They rode through killer head winds, drenching storms and "murderous heat," finally arriving in Washington, D.C., on June 1.

"All along the way we met people who were visually impaired. They said, 'Wow, how about that! You've inspired us,' " Folska says.

That was the point. "When you're disabled in this country, you don't have role models in the mainstream media. I wouldn't exactly identify with Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder."

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